Regardless of the purpose for which you’re using a spotting scope, the long-time leader is Swarovski. In the ATS and STS 80 HD with 20-60X, the hunter or birder will find the best spotting scope.
For those first opening their eyes to the intricate world of birding or going out to the field for the first time to learn what hunting is all about, having the best equipment is not necessarily essential. As we grow in our interest and abilities, however, we find our needs for better equipment expands as well. There comes a moment for the true aficionado when only the very best products can accomplish the tasks we set for ourselves.
In this review we’ll take a close look at two of the ultimate expressions in spotting scopes: the ATS and STS 80 HD Swarovski Optik spotting scopes with the 20-60X eyepiece. The ATS and STS are essential the same scope, one with an angled housing and the other a straight housing. We’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the two body styles, take a look at the specs of the two scopes, examine how they perform in the field, and listen to what reviewers have to say about them.
Which is Better, Angled or Straight?
In observing the Swarovski ATS and the STS, you immediately assume a preference, based upon whether you’d like to look straight ahead or gaze down into the ocular lens. Investigating the advantages and disadvantages of the two housing styles and spending time with each in the field, however, allows you to gain a deeper understanding of their purposes and therefore have a clearer insight into your preference.
Conventional wisdom holds that angled scopes are the preference of birders and straight scopes are for hunters. These ideas come for the notions that looking down for several hours, as birders might, is more restful to the neck than staring straight ahead. Hunters are thought to prefer the straight scope body because acquiring and maintaining a moving target at great distances is more difficult when looking down. Just as there are two basic spotting scope body styles, there are two schools of thought on these traditional ideas. Many hunters prefer the angled lenses of the ATS because it keeps their heads lower and prevents them from being seen by game. Birders often prefer the straight bodied STS because they believe it allows birds seen through binoculars or the unaided eye to be located quickly.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a straight housed spotting scope like the Swarovski STS 80 HD? Most straight scope users will say that acquiring and keeping targets is quicker with a straight scope. This is in large measure because straight scopes are intuitive; you don’t have to retrain yourself about how to focus and move the scope.
Straight scopes can be fixed to window vehicle mounts. The eyepiece is easier to protect from the sun and weather. If the viewing angle is severe—extremely sloped up or down—it’s easier to find the objective and focus with a straight scope. Probably the greatest criticism of straight scopes is the neck strain it can create; with a straight scope, you have to adjust yourself as much as you adjust the device. Another issue often discussed is the height of the tripod. With a straight spotting scope, the tripod must be fully raised, causing the user to be more visible and making the tripod somewhat less steady.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of an angled spotting scope like the Swarovski ATS 80 HD? Most angled spotting scope users will immediately point out that their scopes can easily be used by multiple viewers without adjustment. While quickly acquiring targets as steep degrees may be difficult with an angled scope, viewing at extreme degrees is easier. Standing while using a scope like the ATS is easier, and the user’s profile is lower. The lower tripod setting of the angled scope makes it less likely to be impacted by wind or user jostling. As for disadvantages, the upturned ocular lens must sometimes be protected from the weather and brilliant sunshine. Also, successfully using an angled scope requires more practice.
Specs of the Swarovski ATS and STS HD 80 Spotting Scopes
While their designs differ, the technical specifications of these two scopes are virtually identical. Where they differ is in length, with the STS measuring 13.1 inches and the ATS at 14 inches. The ATS weighs 2.8 pounds and the STS weighs 2.6 pounds. Apart from these two slight differences, here are the specs the two scopes share, followed by the scopes’ lengths and weights:
|Objective Lens Diameter||80 mm|
|Field of View (ft/1000 yds, m/1000 m)||108-60, 36-20|
|Field of View (degrees)||2.1-1.1|
|Shortest Focusing Distance||16.4 f/ 5 m|
|Eye Relief (mm)||17|
|Exit Pupil Diameter (mm)||4.0-1.3|
|Diopter correction at infinity||less than 5|
|Length (STS)||13.1 inches|
|Length (ATS)||14 inches|
|Weight (STS)||2.6 pounds|
|Weight (ATS)||2.8 pounds|
The Swarovski ATS and STS 80 HD spotting scopes come with a soft carrying case, a lens cleaning cloth, and the 20-60X ocular eyepiece. Also, these scopes both come with the vaunted Swarovski warranty: lifetime protection for the lens and 10-year warranty on other scope parts. Many accessories produced by Swarovski are available as well, including the wide-angle 25-50X eyepiece, the lens cleaning set, and a stay-on straight line case for the STS. The Swarovski carbon tripod has a quick-release mounting that attaches to the tripod platform on the bottom of the scope housing. Downloadable information is also available for the purchaser, including an instruction manual in nine languages.
The ATS and STS 80 HD spotting scopes are adept at accepting digiscope cameras. Swarovski makes a unique digiscopy platform that allows camera bodies to be attached and swiveled up out of the way for adjustments in magnification and focusing, then lowered for photos and video. The camera platform is adjustable to accommodate the focal length of your camera.
As with all top of the line Swarovski scopes, the lenses are coated with several proprietary emulsions resulting in remarkable optical and protective properties. The ATS and STS have Swarodur and Swarotop emulsions to enhance image brightness and color. Each also has Swaroclean exterior coating to prevent dust and smudge accumulation on the ocular and objective lenses.
How Do the ATS and STS 80 HD Spotting Scopes Perform in the Field?
It’s safe to say that, like other Swarovski scopes, the ATS and STS 80 HD scopes, are regarded by testers, reviewers, birders, and hunters—among the most common users—as being superior to virtually any other scopes in their class. Indeed, these Swarovski scopes are commonly viewed as the standard by which other scopes are measured.
The ATS and STS are regarded as marvels of compact, extremely rugged scopes. They are easily mounted and moved, easy to use, and intuitively straightforward in their design. The use of these scopes in the field seems to be of paramount concern to the manufacturers, who include many details to make the scope more function for the user: a peep site to help acquire targets, a built-in level, and a smoothly extending sunshade. With both scopes, the magnification wheel rides just below the multiply adjustable eyecup, and the three-finger-wide focus wheel is easily accessible on the body of the scope. The ATS and STS are constructed on rubber-armored frames. Inert nitrogen gas in the housing prevents fogging.
As expected from Swarovski scopes, the images produced are unbelievably sharp and in focus from one edge of the image to another. There is no apparent chromatic aberration of visible color or geometric distortion at all. Focusing and magnification adjustments are smoothly accomplished and, as with other Swarovski products, the great degree of high-definition, sharp focus is astonishing. Image detail simply not present in other scopes of the same magnification is easily attainable with the STS and ATS.
Speaking of detail, Swarovski includes many thought perks with these scopes, and seemingly always the perks come with options. For instance, a tethered lens cap is available for the 80-millimeter objective lens, but the tether can be removed as the user desires. While both the angular and the straight scope are perfectly balanced on the proprietary tripod, expert users will find them to be surprisingly steady when hand-carried. Several digiscopers have posted Internet videos they have taken with these scopes while they were moving. Regarding the new field of digiscopy, these scopes have established a new standard of quality for videos. ATS and STS 80 HD spotting scopes produce incredibly sharp images, showing startling detail both at remarkably close ranges and across vast natural vistas.
How Have the ATS and STS 80 HD Spotting Scopes Been Reviewed?
As is often the case with high-end products, the ATS and STS spotting scopes do not have many reviews. Those who have reviewed them, however, have given the scopes high praise. With only 4 ratings, the Swarovski ATS 80 HD has a perfect 5 out of 5 star rating.
A great many reviewers describe their familiarity with previous scopes of other manufacturers and other Swarovski scopes. Typically, these reviewers are pleasantly surprised. They comment that the STS and ATS are lighter than previous models, are more compact, and easier to use. Those who have used Swarovski scopes in the past have expressed confirmation: the quality of images with the STS and ATS are equal to or surpass the optics they had come to expect from this manufacturer. Some reviewers were able to compare the ATS and STS image quality to previous Swarovski spotting scopes and expressed that there is greater resolution across the image with the ATS and STS.
Mention should be made of the many comments on the usability, durability, and intuitive nature of these spotting scopes. “Rugged” is a word frequently used to describe the scopes. Birders have described focusing during rainy weather through double-paned glass doors on birds several hundred yards away and being able to pick up amazing details. Likewise, hunters report being able to track the movements of large game animals at distances of up to 5 miles, even evaluating the targets. Sightseers describe picking up fine points in communities viewed from more than 10 miles.
Many reviewers linger on the topic of expense. As a top of the line product, the Swarovski ATS and STS 80 HD spotting scopes tend to be among the more expensive in this class. Almost invariably purchasers will express that they are worth the expense. An oft-repeated proverb among birders and hunters is, “if you are going to spend real money, spend it on glass.” If you are serious about your pursuit, reviewers say, these scopes are the best you can acquire.
The Swarovski ATS and STS 80 HD spotting scopes perform their duty well in providing crisp, true color, undistorted images at the closest and most distant magnifications. They also do their part in perpetuating the Swarovski reputation for the highest available quality in lenses, manufacturing, durability, accessories, and warranty.
Purchasers of the ATS and STS 80 HD spotting scopes uniformly report great satisfaction with the devices. The evidence of the superior quality of these scopes is not confined to reviewer comments, however. The Internet contains several videos taken digiscopically through ATS or STS spotting scopes in rugged terrain, difficult weather, and astonishing natural settings, all of which demonstrate the remarkable abilities of these instruments to produce truly breathtaking images. For those seeking the best spotting scope available, the Swarovski ATS and STS 80 HD spotting scopes must surely be among the contenders. The only real question is, do you prefer a straight or an angled scope?